Philosophy Shmilosophy

Parenting books.  I’ve read them.  At first, when I was a newby preggo, all full of hope and promise, all naive and idealistic, I took these books very seriously.  I read Babywise and The Baby Book in tandem, which is probably the weirdest thing you could do.  I actually didn’t finish either of them because I quickly became confused, then frustrated, then angry about the contradictions between the two.  Put your baby on a feeding schedule, don’t feed your baby on a schedule.  Sleeping with your baby is healthy, sleeping with your baby causes death.  Wear your baby several hours a day, let your baby hang out in a swing.  Respond to your baby as soon as he needs you, teach your baby to “self soothe”.  Ugh.

After spending half my pregnancy going from one thought camp to another, I finally gave up and decided I’d just wait and see what my baby was like when he/she arrived.  I decided that I would instinctively know how to be a mother, and that I didn’t need an “expert” or a book or a philosophy to help me.

Enter Baby.  Maybe there are some moms out there who really do feel instinctual and confident from the very moment they set eyes on their newborn and from there on out, but I think most of us have a few (or many) moments (or days) in those first few weeks when we seriously doubt that we were cut from the same mommy cloth as all those other seasoned and successful mom heroes we know (probably the same ones we used to criticize for their oh-s0-imperfect methods).

In the weeks following Alex’s birth, I suddenly doubted that I knew anything at all and turned back to the books as I panicked about sleep and breastfeeding and diaper rash and sleep (did I say that twice?  good).   Again, the contradictions and completely opposite advice.  This book says to take your baby for a car ride every night to get him to sleep, that one says to put your baby in a crib and shut the door, another one says to rock your baby and put them down awake, and yet another says to crawl in bed with baby.

After reading through the books I started and then reading some other ones, and then some other ones, I finally came to the same conclusion that I’d had while pregnant: Screw the books!  Screw the philosophies!  Screw the advice!  No one knows your baby like you do, and therefore no one can be sure to give you the perfect advice for your child.  You have to listen to your baby, listen to yourself, pick and choose from the advice you’re given, and do what works for your family.  Safety and and eye for the future are, of course, vital parts of your decision-making.  It burns me up that parents are given so little credit that we are told to look up the “guidelines” from experts before we are encouraged to consult our own intellect.  I’m not saying that statistics and professional opinions are of no value, just that they aren’t a substitute for your own intelligent brain, your own intuition as a mother.  Study your baby and learn about them, because they are a unique individual, nonidentical anyone else’s baby and nonidentical any other baby you have had or ever will have.

I’d like to think that when it comes to parenting philosophies I take the best from each.  I have not yet read a parenting book that I completely agree with every way.  My favorites, though, are the ones that talk about the science and facts of baby development so that I can try to work with Alex’s natural trajectory, the path of growth that God meant for babies to take when he designed  them.  The 90 Minute Baby Sleep book, for example, is one that has been helpful for me because it talks about how babies (and adults too) operate on 90 minute cycles.  In babies, the end of the 90 minute cycle is that point at which they are most receptive to sleep.  Very young babies have no reason to be awake for more than 90 minutes.  Older babies will begin to string together more cycles and be awake for 3 hours or maybe 4 and 1/2 hours.  If you watch for your baby’s sleepy signs and begin to soothe them at that point, they should go to sleep very easily.  Again, not everything in the book has worked for us, but it has given me very good guidelines for sleep, and has contributed to Alex being a very well-rested little boy.

I don’t nurse on a schedule, but I do loosely follow a sleep-eat-wake pattern, compliments of Babywise.  I don’t plan to let Alex cry himself to sleep, but I do plan to do a bedtime routine as many of the “cry it out” books suggest.  I don’t plan to take Alex for a car ride every night to get him to sleep, but I do sleep with him next to me in my bed, something The Baby Book endorses.

To be honest, when I hear phrases like “attachment parenting” or “cry it out” or “schedule parents”, I want to hurl.  Some of you might get angry to hear me say that, but I hate those phrases and I don’t associate myself with any of the parenting camps that have sprung up all over the internet.   My husband certainly doesn’t either (he hasn’t read any parenting books, and that may be a  good thing).  I’m just Alex’s mommy, and I plan to parent him in a way that works with his personality and temperament, works for our family, and helps him to become the kind of man who loves and honors God, is close to his parents, is honest and courageous in his dealings with other men, and treats women with sensitivity and respect.  His spiritual outcome is of utmost importance to me, even more so than his physical and intellectual maturity.  I want to parent with those goals in mind.

That being said, I breastfeed on demand, co-sleep, and baby-wear, so I probably fall closer to the attachment parenting camp than any other.  Although I really didn’t want to say that because I also look for patterns and routines and utilize several principles that help to lend structure and predictability to our lives.  I also plan for Alex to sleep in his own bed at some point, though not until he is ready.  I just hate the label.  It puts a bad taste in my mouth, maybe because it gives me visions of children who are allow to run amuck with no order or discipline and a family where the father and mother sleep in separate rooms to accommodate extended co-sleeping.  I’m not really as militant and I may sound, but I have been feeling rather soapbox-ish and defensive lately, and posts like this result.

I guess if i have a parenting philosophy it is simply this: Alex is a tiny baby who can’t take care of himself, so when he needs me I’m going to be there for him.  I want him to know that he can count on his parents to help him.  As he is able to do things for himself, I want to facilitate that and help him grow into a confident and independent adult who still isn’t afraid to ask for and accept help and support when he needs it.

That is all.

 

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Labor is Like….

I’ve spent some time trying to imagine what kind of mental, physical, and emotional effort labor will require.  In conversation with my husband one day, I thought of some of the most difficult things I’ve done in life and attempted to make comparisons.  I also remembered what I needed to do to bring me through those experiences and how I might be able to apply that to labor and birth.

I know that nothing can ever truly prepare me for the birth experience because it is as yet unknown, but I’ve done what I can.  Here are my comparisons.

Mental:

When I was in graduate school to earn my MS in Biology, I had to take something called “comps”.  Comprehensive exams, that is.  It was basically a huge open-book essay exam that took a week to complete.  And I do mean a full week.  I did nothing that week but work on the exam.  I may have eaten and slept, but I’m not even sure I showered.  Each question required the equivalent of a research paper to answer, complete with a bibliography of peer-reviewed references, a table of contents, and who knows what else.  I’ve successfully blocked some of that stuff from my memory for self-preservation.   The questions were not easy- neither to understand nor to answer.  It was the most mentally exhausting time of my life, and I thought many times that I may actually not be able to do it.  Even completing the task felt like an impossibility, but I definitely doubted my ability to make a passing score.  But I did finish.  And I did pass.  And it felt amazing, both when I turned in the finished work and when I learned that I’d actually passed!  I could continue graduate school!

What got me through was sheer willpower, dogged determination, and a surrender to the inevitability that I must keep going day after day.  Yeah, I could relate that to labor and birth, especially a long labor.

Physical:

The first thing that comes to mind is climbing mountains.  Well, hiking might be a better word.  I’ve done a few hikes up mountains in my lifetime that really tested the limits of my physical endurance.  I would feel that I couldn’t take another step, but I would keep going.  Another switchback, another corner, another scramble up a steep part.  The thing about climbing a trail that you’ve never climbed before is that you really don’t know for sure when it will be over.  The trees get in the way, each summit looks like the last- until you top it and see the next one waiting.

What got me through these experiences was usually a couple of things.  I often didn’t want to lag behind or let those behind me pass me up because it would be a blow to my pride.  I wanted to look strong and tough and keeping my place in the group provided excellent motivation.  I also knew that EVENTUALLY I’d reach the top.  Every trail has an end, and every mountain has a summit.  It may seem to go on forever, but it cannot.  Definitely some parallels to labor and birth, which also cannot last forever.

Emotional:

While the mental and physical challenges I’ve experienced definitely all had emotional components as well, I wanted to come up with something primarily emotional.  That would have to be breakups.  A broken heart can be very difficult to pick yourself up from, and I know that well.  I remember one particularly devastating winter when every morning for months I awoke with fresh horror over the realization that my heartbreak wasn’t a dream.  I’d have to get out of bed and go through the motions of getting dressed, eating breakfast, and driving to work even though it all felt secondary to what was going on inside me.  I was like a zombie.

What got me through that experience was a combination of moving through life even when I doubted my ability to do so as well as taking the time to give way to my emotional pain- to really feel it and give a name to it and express it.  Being honest with myself about the horrible things I was feeling inside made me less afraid and more alive.  I could apply this to possible emotions during labor such as fear, self-doubt, and anxiety that could really slow things down if I try to deny them or push them away instead of just admitting that they are there and allowing myself to work through them.

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I have no idea how difficult labor will be, but I do expect it to be one of, if not THE MOST, challenging thing I have ever done.  I expect it to be hard physical work and require mental determination and emotional fortitude.  I expect that I will doubt myself at some point.  I expect that I will have reach deep in order to keep going.  I also expect that I will feel amazing when I have accomplished it.  I imagine feeling the success of passing comps, the victory of conquering a mountain, and the relief of surviving heartbreak- but with the added component of overwhelming love for the baby that has been birthed as the result of my hard work!  When I think of the end result, I really cannot wait to make the journey to get there.

I still cannot believe it, but our doula told us that she loved being in labor so much that she “would do it every day of the week”!  It’s pretty exciting to hear something like that and to realize that an event most women in our society are taught to fear can actually be something that you look forward to- not just the end result, but the process itself.  It truly is rite of passage that every woman must take to get to motherhood, and I dream of a time when we can treat it as a privilege and a wonderful experience instead of scaring each other with our horror stories and fearful tales.

 

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